Eye Witness Accounts


Mémoire Sur le Somnubulisme et le Magnétisme Animal

by General François Joseph Noizet


          In 1814, upon returning from a Hungarian jail in Szegedin after peace had been announced, I heard about demonstrations of somnambulism performed by Abbé Faria in Paris, rue de Clichy, in a building adjacent to the former Garden of Tivoli. I went there less out of idle curiosity than with the desire to acquire specific ideas on animal magnetism. There, I saw a tall and handsome old man, with half-greying black hair, dark complexion, elongated face, hooked nose, large bulging eyes, a beautiful horse's head, as I told myself then. I discovered that he was an Indo-Portuguese priest from Goa. Many respectable members of the aristocracy were present, as well as several young cavalry officers; altogether thirty to sixty people who had paid three francs to gain admission.

          The lecture began with a monotonous and laboured reading from a manuscript in which the author explained his system. He specially stressed that the outcomes he produced did not depend on him but entirely on the subject, whose belief was all that mattered in achieving all the results obtained. He stressed repeatedly that neither the Devil, nor animal magnetism were in any way involved  with the phenomena produced.

          Finally, after half an hour during which the audience waited impatiently, the experiments began. He was assisted by a housekeeper and one or two regulars in whom he induced somnambulism using only verbal commands. He then selected three, four, five or more members from the audience in whom he tried to produce similar results. He made them sit comfortably, asked them to think about sleep and to watch him, while he himself stared at them fixedly from a distance with his large eyes, showed them the back of his raised hand, came forward a few steps, then suddenly lowered his arm in front of them  while ordering them firmly to sleep. Sometimes, but not often, he would approach them and press his finger on their forehead while repeating the order: Sleep! At least three times out of five, I saw this technique succeed in less than one minute. I even submitted to his action, but he managed only to paralyse my eyelids, preventing me to open my eyes until he ordered me to do so.

         I brought to him a rather frail young law student who fell asleep at Faria's first attempt, spoke as all somnambulists do, but was so embarrassed when he woke up that he later refused to see the Abbé again and even refused to submit himself to a few tests I wished to conduct. Since he lived with one of my relatives who was also studying law, I was able to determine by placing my hand for a while on his forehead as he slept  naturally that, though he did not wake up at night, he was indeed a natural somnambulist."

          After attending a dozen lectures [by Abbé Faria], I received my marching orders from the Minister of War and went to Boulogne, from where I set out eight months later for the Waterloo campaign. After the army was decommissioned, I stayed on in Paris for five months in 1815, waiting for the judgement they were about to pass on us, Bandits of the Loire, as they called us then, and during this free time, I got the idea to go and again see the poor priest whose sad adventures I had been told. He received me with much enthusiasm and convinced me to review his text with him, to correct some stylistic anomalies which, as a foreigner, he could not have avoided introducing into it. Thus I began this laborious task without contradicting any of his theoretical ideas and concentrating on sentence structure only, but I found this man to be so headstrong that I soon regretted my hurry in agreeing to help him. Finally, I regained my rank in the army, received new orders from the Minister, and did not again see the Abbé, who died in oblivion a few years later.

          What I can add is that I was absolutely convinced of poor Faria's good faith, of the reality of the effects he obtained, of the correctness of a great part of his doctrine, though I believe that his physical presence, his use of facial expressions and his self-assurance played some part in the outcome.T


This material was researched and submitted by Luis S.R. Vas

Artwork by Dom Martin



By Etienne  de Juoy


. . . . . Per amicitiam, divosque rogatus,

Ducere me auditum, perges quocumque, memento,

Nam, quamvis referas memori mihi pectore cuncta,

Non tamen interpres tantumdem juveris:  adde

Vultum habitumque hominis.

                                                        HOR. Sat I. Lib.2.

           I have often inquired, but never obtained a satisfactory answer to the question, “Why have that class of men whom the Greeks denominated Agyrte, the Romans Circumforanci, and we, in a rather vague way, Charlatans, always chosen France for the principal theatre of their quackery?”  These persons do not think Frenchmen greater fools than other people:  should they be imagined less addicted to antiquated rules, more free from the prejudices of custom?  They will answer themselves that they are always the last, if not to acknowledge, at least to adopt useful inventions.  They will confess that Christopher Columbus in vain begged that he might be allowed the favour of discovering a new world for their advantage; that the vortices of Descartes were maintained for half a century among them against the system of Newton; that inoculation had during thirty years saved hundreds of thousands of European lives long before it was with difficulty introduced into France; that even at this moment, a large proportion of the inhabitants of Paris obstinately persist in drinking the impure water of the Seine, in preference to the clear filtered beverage which they can procure at the same price; and, in short, that all innovation, bearing a highly-marked character for grandeur and public utility, has ever been in this country the object of the most inveterate and absurd opposition. 

          It is however true that, in revenge, all futile follies, all extravagant theories, all ridiculous schemes, (provided they originate with foreigners) are sure to meet among us with favour, protection, and enthusiastic encouragement.  From Luc Gauric to the Abbe Faria inclusively, I do not know a single foreign Doctor, whether he has pricked for his dupes on our quays or in our saloons, whether he has had his companions in the shops or in the palaces, who has not found means to realize a sort of fortune in France.  Behold upon the Place du Louvre this famous Doctor Napolitano, rolling about in his open cabriolet, with his huge periwig whitened with powder, his full scarlet coat trimmed with gold lace, his embroidered vest, rings upon every finger, and his ample ruffles of Flanders lace; in what does he differ from this most illustrious Cagliostro whom we have seen, at the close of the eighteenth century, boast, even in the Oeil de Boeuf1, at Versailles, of being able to make the dead speak, and enrich himself by means of a Phantasmagoria, which when some years after carried to perfection by Robertson the physician, proved the ruin of that individual.

The first and boldest of the Charlatans who have appeared in France is indisputably,

“………Cet Ecossais celebre,

Ce Calculateur sans egal,

Qui, par les regles de l’algebre,

Menait la France a l’Hopital2.”

          This prototype of all Charlatans born or yet to be born, escaped from England, where he was condemned to be hanged, in a very few years changed his country, his religion, his condition and his fortune.  After having in vain endeavoured to introduce his System into every state in Europe, he at last came to establish it in France: - the result is generally known!

           Succeeding the adventurer Law, sprung up another adventurer of the name of Willars, who made a rapid fortune of many millions (of francs) by bottling the waters of the Seine, and selling them as an universal panacea, which would lengthen human life to the extent of at least a hundred and fifty years.  The Parisian wine-merchants are the inheritors of his secret, which they vend however under another name!

          Bietton, acquainted with the miracle wrought by the water of the river, thought he might be as successful drawing the element from its source.  He announced the possession of a physical faculty peculiar to himself, by which he could discover, or rather perceive the existence of subterraneous springs, at whatever depth they might be situated, by means of a hazel switch and an able colleague.  He succeeded in reviving for a considerable period this pretended science of Rabdomancy, which an Ultramontane quack had imposed upon the credulous in a preceding age.


          Mesmer burst forth with greater éclat, and with more powerful means than his predecessors; and his triumph was less ephemeral.  He had, if you would believe him, discovered a new agent in nature, which he called Animal Magnetism.  The properties of this agent, by creating new affinities and new relations between men and things, produced miraculous effects.  As magnetism operated chiefly upon the nerves and the imagination, our ladies were its earliest converts.  The Tub of Mesmer became the rendezvous of beauties of the court and city.  Magnetism hatched Vapours, Spasms, Nervous Affections, of a thousand kinds; and these diseases of the imagination, which seized the physicians themselves, procured proselytes for the German Doctor in the very bosom of the Faculty.  Those who most obstinately denied the efficacy of magnetism, perceived however that it was not without its influence on our manners; that it brought into contact many persons who would never otherwise have been seen together; and that the virus of the Tub produced a wonderful effect upon the virtue of women.  When the government thought it time to put an end to this comedy, they procured it to be represented on the stage, and the Modern Doctors threw into utter discredit the doctors of the day.

This quackery of Mesmerism,  which I recollect that Doppat, the pupil of Deslon who had himself been the disciple of Mesmer, ingenuously said, “Those who are acquainted with our secret, doubt it more than those who are ignorant of it.”, has given birth to Somnambulism, for which, at this moment, the Abbe Faria keeps a school, to the great scandal of good sense, and of the philosophy which he professes.  I was present at the sitting, that is to say, at the public mystification, which took place on Wednesday last, in a house in the Rue de Clichy.  I shall relate what I saw; it is impossible to represent the matter in a more ridiculous light.

The apostle of Somnambulism had chosen the school room of a house of education, as the theatre for the exhibition of his juggling tricks, in the execution of which, he is, as will be seen, far inferior to Olivier.

Before the professor appeared, I examined the assembly; it was brilliant, numerous, and two thirds of it composed of women in the flower of their age.  It was easy to see that the greater proportion of them came to the place with very favourable prepossessions towards the new doctrine.  I was placed near Madame Maur, and I could discover in that amiable person, the different characteristics which credulity, confidence, and persuasion, impart to the physiognomy.

The Abbe, accompanied by five or six young girls, appeared in the space reserved for him at one end of the apartment: - his complexion browned by the fires of the Goa Sun, did not detract from the regularity of his features; and I thought I could perceive that the most beautiful half of his auditory, seemed in this respect, to have no stronger prejudices than the tender Desdemona.

The Orator commenced by a discourse in so grotesque a style, that it was necessary to be a Frenchman, and to recollect that he who spoke was a foreigner, not to interrupt him at the end of every sentence, with bursts of laughter.  The course of his ideas, unfortunately was no less ludicrous than the language in which they were expressed:  it is almost doubtful, whether human extravagance could go so far.  After an eulogium, emphatic to absurdity, on magnetism and its general properties, the professor laid it down as a principle that this mysterious agent was the basis of all instruction, the foundation of all sciences, the key to all human knowledge.  Before hearing this philosopher from the coast of Malabar, who could have imagined that to magnetism appertains, not only the power of revealing to us the secrets of medicine; and the cause, the seat, and the cure of all diseases, but also that of enabling us to ascertain the configuration, the matter, the motion of the stars and the nature of their inhabitants?  We may therefore make ourselves very easy on the subject of the future progress of medicine and astronomy; even morals need no longer trouble us, for magnetism will be found an ample substitute:  “all the virtues are thence derived as well as all true knowledge, and political science, is itself subject to the action of this extraordinary principle.” 

After this luminous definition of magnetism, M. Faria addressed us on the subject of Somnambulism, which is its immediate result.  As far as I was enabled to ascertain from his unintelligible jargon, the state of Somnambulism is for man, and especially for woman, the most consummately blissful; - persons in the condition of Somnambulism develop faculties and information, of the possession of which, they are utterly unconscious when awake, such as the gift of tongues, and the second sight; and what is still more wonderful, in particular cases, it even produces new organs.  Thus, one of his pupils had attained the peculiar endowment of reading in her sleep, by that part of the human body which the first created man and woman alone did not bring into the world.  Unfortunately, the proof of this miracle was of a nature not fit for public exhibition!

Other experiments were presented.  The four young girls were placed in a row, and the preliminary discourse of the master, had so excellently predisposed them to slumber, that the very moment the magnetic rod touched them, they were plunged into the most profound sleep.  One of them in her nap said she was thirsty:  “What will you have to drink?” demanded the cajoler – “Sugared water”.  Immediately he presented her with a great glass of clear water which he contented himself with magnetizing, instead of sugaring.  The little girl took the glass of water, drank it and complained that it was too sweet.

The Abbe might have insisted a little upon the benefits which might have be derived from magnetism at a period when sugar is so dear; but without noticing the objection made to him, he passed on to a second experiment.  “This young person”, said he, pointing to one of the sleepers “does not, as you may readily believe, understand one word of Latin.  Well! In the state of Somnambulism, in which she at present is, you shall see that she can comprehend what is spoken in that language.  To prove it: -- “Ars longa, vita brevia.  Answer Miss, what is the meaning of these  words?”  “Life is long and short!”  Loud bursts of laughter broke out on all sides, and the sitting would hardly have been suffered to proceed, had not the motions and cries of a third Somnambulist fixed anew the attention of the assembly.  “Stop thief!  Murder!  Stop thief!”  she exclaimed.  The magnetizer questioned her – “What is the matter?” – “A murder in the Rue de Celichy!”  “Who are the perpetrators?”  “Two men whom I can hardly distinguish!”  “Are they arrested?”  “Only one of them!”  This trick would have excited a considerable sensation, had not many of the company been aware of an event which had taken place three hours before, of which the Somnambulist and the Professor, like other people, had learned the circumstances.

          The experiments of members paralysed and deparalysed at the word of command given by the magnetizer, finished by exhausting the patience, and disgusting the honest feelings of the spectators.  At first, murmurs were heard; these were succeeded by hooting; next, they hissed the Indian Professor, who very dexterously accounted for the want of success which attended his efforts, by declaring, that the presence of a single skeptic was sufficient to neutralize the magnetic virtue, and confound the talent of the magnetizer.

I have been desirous in this essay to answer the reproach which has been applied to me, for not having heretofore, in a work dedicated to the delineation of living manners, devoted a page to the exposure of a doctrine so perfectly absurd and ridiculous.  But there can be no danger of its coming into fashion. And we have no cause to apprehend that the steps of Abbe Faria will be followed by any other Professors.

1 The anti-chamber of the grand apartment at Versailles, so called from the form of its windows.  Tr.

2 This celebrated Scotsman; this unequalled Calculator, who, by the rules of Algebra, led France to the Hospital.


Etienne de Juoy was a French poet and librettist.  His essay, Somnambulism and Abbe Faria, appeared in Volume III of the The Paris Spectator (1815), and was translated from the French by W. Jerdan.  The Paris Spectator was dedicated to making observations on ‘Parisian Manners and Customs’. 



This material was researched and submitted by Luis S.R. Vas

Artwork by Dom Martin